One last stop for the trip as we drove out of Tha Ton and back over the hills to Doi Chiang Dao on January 25th, having disturbed Brown Hawk Owl off the roof at the Old Tree's House, scoffed a good breakfast and pulled outta town by 0700, arriving on the rice paddies beneath Doi Chiang Dao at 0900, thanks to another fine bit of driving from Neill and Trops.
Lovely place to bird as the morning warmed up, with wavy locals tootling off to work on mopeds down the narrow dusty tracks and music and temple bells wafting on the breeze from the outskirts of town.
Plenty of Wire Tailed Swallows here, scooting about with Barn Swallows over the flooded paddies - lovely crisp hirundine, even without the big long streamers of breeding plumage.
Grey Headed Lapwing and the usual assortment of egrets and Black Winged Stilts, with Brown Shrike by the road and lots of White Wags of various forms.
We gave the wet and dry paddies a good two hours, with Oriental Skylark (one I've always wanted to catch up with - obviously different in flight), Greater Coucal and assorted Munias and Chats, before driving up to Malee's, where we were staying for the last two nights of the trip.
Good friendly place close to the national park and temple, with excellent birding on the doorstep.
Malee was entertainment enough herself, especially given all the Chang she had in her fridge, but we resisted temptation and headed out to bird the "500 Steps to Enlightment" up to the temple and gully nearby.
The regularly-placed messages of philosophical import nailed to the trees seemed to have a stirring effect on the hemp-trousered fraternity of western travellers wandering about the site searching for inner peace
I must admit I found the sage advice really annoying as the temperature and steps up the steep hillside soared.
"It is better to bite the *rse of a camel than to spit in the eye of a tiger" at Step 409 (okay, I've made that one up, but you get the picture) may result in major kharmic bonusses for all when the surf ain't up or there isn't a full moon party for a month, but it did begin to feel like you were stuck in an infinity loop of episodes of "Kung Fu" after the first few hundred steps.
Nice temple though, where the devout could doubtless see Buddha's battery charger, or some other vastly important religious relic/icon.
Sigh, I'll never make a hippy.
The birding up the temple however was excellent, even in the heat of the day and the temple gully trail was very productive, once we'd pushed back the undergrowth and the gully bed opened out in front of us.
Lots of Buff Chested/Buff Breasted Babbler action from the trail, Siberian Blue Robin, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Black Hooded Oriole, Yellow Browed Warblers and Common Tailorbirds galore.
Bazzo went to bird round the temple (scoring Chestnut Bellied Rock Thrush, Streaked Wren Babbler and Mountain Tailorbird), while the rest of us pushed into the gully and immediately hit a feeding wave of birds.
Some folk split the races of Blue Throated Blue Flycatcher (top pic from the south, bottom pic from Doi Chiang Dao), although I must admit I was just pleased to get good views of one sitting over the gully as Grey Crowned Warbler, White Browed Piculet, White Throated Fantail and Greenish Warbler zipped about us.
As the trail narrowed we climbed round the monks' water pipes (not to be sat on apparently, very bad kharma, and it costs a fortune to get Dynarod up the mountain squire), coming across gorgeous White Hooded Babbler and Puff Throated Bulbul, with nice views of a Yellow Bellied Warbler at a wet area of the otherwise dry stony gulch.
Loud alarm calls got Neill and I onto a superb White Crowned Forktail as it flew up out of the narrow stream bed and into cover, where this marvellous bird scolded us until we left the area.
Much bigger than the Slaty Backed Forktails we'd had earlier on the trip, very impressive critter.
I took this pic of Tropical and Mike hairing off down the trail more as an aside on sartorial elegance in the jungle should you be considering a yomp to where the creepy-crawlies live.
While Trops happily points out that shorts and bare arms are much more comfortable than big boy pants, boots and long-sleeved shirts as modelled by yours truly below, (and he may have a point), I'm not the one currently being treated for Scrub Typhus.
Were Trops writing this trip report, I'm sure he'd take this opportunity to thank the splendid staff at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine for their excellent work in diagnosing the daft sod's condition on our return.
Doubtless he'll make a chigger-tastic recovery, and such an unusual ailment is a small price to pay for all the birds we scored on the trip - especially when he's got it, not me.
Anyway, we got out of the gully and down to the National Park HQ by 1530, where we needed to sort out permits for the early hours drive up Doi Chiang Dao the next day.
Unfortunately all the rangers were having a P.O.E.T.S. day this being a Friday, and were too busy playing poker to attempt to give us the necessary paperwork.
This was not good as we understood the permits were a necessity to get up the trail at 0500 the next morning.
Fortunately we explained the situation back at Malee's, and while we had the first of way too many cold Changs, troops were dispatched to sort the rangers out.
Malee's brother (?) returned a short while later with all the paperwork we needed, allowing us to relax, scoff some great food and explore the undiscovered country that lies beyond Chang Classic Number 7.
A tad groggy, but still all alive, we piled into the Fortuner at 0500 on January 26th, and Neill steered us up the dusty, bumpy, bouncy track to the sub-station campsite near the top of Doi Chiang Dao.
Watched dawn seep through the cold trees up at the top as kindly Thai guides took pity on us, giving us life-saving coffee and rice cooked in bamboo stems, which as breakfasts go at 2,200m altitude, was pretty good.
The open area and blossom trees here were excellent for early morning birding, with Olive Backed Pipits on the short grass, and sunbirds and white-eyes galore in the blossom trees.
Huge Mountain Imperial Pigeons tanked overhead with Striated Swallows and Pacific Swifts and Orange Bellied Leafbirds positively glowed in the morning sun.
Watching Maroon Oriole, Streaked Spiderhunter, Chestnut Bunting and Wedge Tailed Pigeon with the area pretty much to ourselves was just great.
Neill went to check out the nearby pool just behind the capsite area and scored a fine Black Tailed crake, which strutted through the waterside vegetation, occasionally showing well enough to attempt digiscopage across the water.
A great place to stand quietly and watch birds coming and going, with Rusty Cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Rufous Turtle Dove, Lesser Coucal and Black Winged Cuckoo-shrike all putting in an appearance around the water's edge.
We left the blossom trees, hard light and clearing to the Grey Bushchats and headed down the hill on foot hoping for a Hume's Pheasant or Giant Nuthatch, but scored neither at this most reliable of stake-outs.
Jumping back into the 4x4 we birded our way back down the mountain track, stopping wherever we heard birds, enjoying delightful male Little Pied Flycatchers and once the unit split up down various trails, between us pulling in Scaly Thrush, Velvet Fronted Nuthatch, Grey Capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Chestnut Fronted Shrike Babbler (stunning - so much better than the pic in the field guide), Red Billed Blue Magpie and Bay Woodpecker as we went.
Neill and Bazzo hit a big feeding flock that contained the sought after Giant Nuthatch, but by the time the rest of us caught up with the blizzard of birds, the big tree-hugger was nowhere to be seen - such is jungle birding.
By the end of the afternoon it was obvious that Doi Chiang Dao would repay longer hours in the field, but sadly we only had one full day to hammer it, before we snaked back down the dusty hillside passing lovely Grey Backed Shrikes.
We were never once asked to present our national park permits, which had seemed so important the day before...
Back to Malee's, for our last night in Thailand, and enough beer to pickle a 1,000-year-old-egg.
Just time the next morning to look at some open grassland/scrub near Malee's, which held munias, shrikes, prinias and bushchats.
Dumped the hire car at Chiang Mai airport on January 27th, caught a connecting flight to Bangkok and then took on the long haul home via Abu Dhabi.
Great trip, stunning logistics from Tropical, tireless driving from Scrub Typhus Boy and Neill, many laughs, many, many birds - list of over 350 sp, but I'm still working through it.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...
Doi Chiang Dao list
Brown Shrike, Grey Headed lapwing, Cattle Egret, Chinese Pond Heron, Wire Tailed Swallow, Commn Buzzard, Siberian Stonechat, Grey Bushchat, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Common Myna, White Vented Myna, Himalayan Swiftlet, Tree Sparrow, Black Winged Stilt, Oriental Skylark, Greater Coucal, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Scaly Breasted Munia, Black Hooded Oriole, Black Crested Bulbul, Blue Rock Thrush, Common Tailorbird, Yellow Browed Warbler, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, Grey Backed Shrike, Siberian Blue Robin, Hill Blue Flycatcher, White Rumped Shama, Buff Breasted Babbler, Buff Chested Babbler, Puff Throated Bulbul, Grey Crowned Warbler, White Browed Piculet, White Hooded Babbler, White Crowned Forktail, Yellow Bellied Warbler, White Throated Fantail, Chestnut Bellied Rock Thrush, Streaked Wren Babbler, Mountain Tailorbird, Greenish Warbler, Blue Throated Barbet, Blyth's Leaf Warbler, Japanese White-eye, Chestnut Bunting, Orange Bellied Leafbird, Rufous Treepie, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Black Tailed Crake, Great Tit, Maroon Oriole, Olive Backed Pipit, Black Drongo, Sooty Headed Bulbul, Rufous Turtle Dove, Wedge Tailed Pigeon, Rusty Cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Black Winged Cuckoo-shrike, Streaked Spiderhunter, Taiga Flycatcher, Striated Swallow, Slaty Backed Flycatcher, Lesser Coucal, Pacific Swift, Little Pied Flycatcher, Bay Woodpecker, Scaly Thrush, Ashy Drongo, Red Billed Blue Magpie, Greater Racket Tailed Drongo, Grey Capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Stripe Breasted Woodpecker, Grey Chinned Minivet, Pallas's Warbler, Velvet Fronted Nuthatch, Chestnut Fronted Shrike Babbler, Blyth's Leaf Warbler, White Bellied Yuhina, Giant Nuthatch, Rufous Winged Fulvetta, Ashy Woodswallow, Paddyfield Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Long Tailed Shrike, Plain Prinia, Pied Bushchat, Grey Bushchat, Spotted Dove, Red Collared Dove, Openbill Stork, Pied Fantail.